More than 10 years after it became law, the Affordable Care Act is back before the US Supreme Court, pitting birth control funding against religious liberty. Wednesday's hearing at the high court was all about forcing nuns to violate their religious beliefs.
The coronavirus may have forced the US Supreme Court to hold its hearings by phone, but that meant this critical religious liberty case could be attended by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg from her hospital bed.
The case is Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania, and the issue has come back around again because states are insisting that the federal government should make a group of nuns abide by the Obamacare contraceptive mandate.
From her hospital room, Justice Ginsburg insisted the Little Sisters of the Poor should not be exempted from providing abortion-causing contraceptives to female employees on their healthcare plan.
She told US Solicitor General Noel Francisco, "You have just tossed entirely to the wind what Congress thought was essential, that is that women be provided these services with no hassle, no cost to them."
But the Little Sisters' attorney Paul Clement argued the nuns would never buckle, meaning they could face fines of somewhere between $60 and $70 million a year for not complying – a heavy penalty for practicing their religious freedom.
Clement stated, "When the government imposes a burden on religion by telling the Little Sisters that they have to comply with the mandate or else when the 'or else' is massive penalties, that plainly provides a substantial burden on religious exercise."
Can't Minister to the Elderly While Helping to Kill the Unborn
Each of the Little Sisters has taken a vow to care for the elderly poor, which they do in facilities across the country. After the Supreme Court hearing, one of their Mother Superiors, Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, said, "We could not comply with the mandate. To do so would undermine our most important belief, that all life is valuable. We cannot hold the hands of the elderly dying while at the same time facilitating the ending of unborn life."
Sister Maguire added, "The government's contraceptive mandate directed us to provide contraceptive and life-ending drugs in our healthcare plan or pay millions of dollars in fines, which would have crippled our ministry."
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Lori Windham of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is also defending the Little Sisters, and told CBN News, "It would be devastating for their ministry if they were fined and if they were put to a choice between following their faith and living and being true to that and being able to continue the ministry."
Clement pointed out to the justices that not one employee has ever complained to the Little Sisters of the Poor about not having this contraceptive coverage.
He said of those employees, "They've come to work for the Little Sisters understanding the mission of the Little Sisters, and I don't think that they would really want to put the Little Sisters in the position of maybe having to stop serving the elderly poor."
Since the nuns can't in good conscience compromise on this issue, that's what would happen: the ending of their mission, because it couldn't continue in the face of millions of dollars in fines every year.
COVID-19 Means No Big Demonstration at the Court, but There Was a Virtual Rally
The coronavirus pandemic has changed so many things, including wiping out huge demonstrations outside the Supreme Court when a controversial case is being heard inside. This time there were just nuns present, praying for the Little Sisters of the Poor and saying the Rosary.
It was fed out over Facebook by Becket in what it labeled a "virtual rally."
And instead of addressing a big rally on the high court's steps, well-known figures Skyped into the virtual rally to voice their support.
Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines stated, "The Little Sisters deserve permanent relief from the contraceptive mandate so they can serve the elderly poor without violating their beliefs."
The federal government years ago gave the nuns a religious exemption, but with this case, states are insisting the feds can't do that.
If the states win, Becket President Mark Rienzi explained, "It would really just be an all-or-nothing choice: we can only have a contraceptive mandate if you're willing to force nuns to do it."
And Skyping into the virtual rally, Morning Glory Radio Show host Gloria Purvis exclaimed, "It's hard to believe the state governments would go after and bully nuns… nuns who simply want to serve the elderly poor."
'How Ridiculous & How Ironic'
This has been a seven-year-long battle for the Little Sisters of the Poor. That led Marjorie Dannenfelser to say to them, "How ridiculous and ironic it is that now you're being taken away from ministering to the poor so that you can be at the Supreme Court."
Missouri Republican Rep. Vicky Hartzler said of the Little Sisters, "Sadly, for too long, the government has been opposing them and trying to shut down this 175-year ministry."
Louis Brown of Christ Medicus Foundation added, "Our US Constitution protects the God-given right of conscience and religious freedom, the right of religious organizations to live out their vocation, live out their mission, out of love for God and neighbor and to care for the poorest and vulnerable."
Cissie Graham Lynch of Samaritan's Purse Skyped into the virtual rally to pray, "Lord, the Little Sisters of the Poor…they have been through difficult times. But I thank You that they have not wavered, that they have not compromised, but they have stood strong."
Dr. Grazie Christie of The Catholic Association argued, "Let's liberate the Little Sisters of the Poor to go back to doing what they do best."
Windham told CBN News this case should matter to all religious believers who want their religious liberty and rights of conscience protected by the government.
She stated, "It's important to recognize that we're talking about not just what happens to the Little Sisters, but when the government can follow the best of our traditions and respect religious freedom."